A High Altitude Contest

Irrespective of the party in power MLA Gulmarg manages to wrestle his share of influence in Kashmir politics. But will influence help him to secure a win, Saima Bhat finds out before NC and PDP try to outwit Hassan Mir from his home constituency on December 9

Picturesque view of  snow drapped Tangmarg town during winter.
Picturesque view of snow drapped Tangmarg town during winter.

Though the temperature is freezing in picturesque Gulmarg, but the political heat is felt all over. Ready to vote in the third phase  on December  9, this assembly segment of North Kashmir has kept the political parties on their toes.

With three strong candidates in the fray, it is quite tricky to gauge the public mood.

In this constituency of 82,935 voters, eight members are in fray but political observers of the segment believe that battle is actually between incumbent MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir, National Conference’s additional general secretary Dr Mustafa Kamal and Peoples Democratic Party’s Muhammad Abbas Wani.

Mir who is the only known face of the party he heads, Democratic Party (Nationalist), is representing the constituency from the last twelve years. Mir is known for his art of staying relevant irrespective of the party(s) in power.

Though a minister in Omar led coalition government, Mir was accused “to be the man behind 2010 killings who conspired to topple Omar’s government in Kashmir in connivance with army,” as his name surfaced in infamous Army’s TSD controversy.

Mir prior to the formation of his own party was more of a ‘free electron’, supporting party who had numbers to be in power. The electoral history of this segment reveals that Mir has represented this constituency thrice, 1983 on NC ticket, 2002 on PDP ticket and in 2008 as DPN president, but he is enjoying the berths of a minister from last 30 years now.

Mir, a resident of Heriwathru village in Tangmarg is a law graduate from AMU. He came into politics after getting in touch with Ghulam Mohammad Shah, son-in-law of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who got him a party ticket in 1983 assembly elections. He won and became a minister. But a year later, Shah ‘conspired’ with Indira Gandhi and Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, then Congress president in the state, to topple Farooq Abdullah. Mir was one of the 17 ministers who supported Shah that time. Mir became the law minister in the new Congress government.

To stay relevant, in the next phase Mir joined hands with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and became one of the founders of PDP. In 2002, Mir won and became a minister in Mufti led coalition government. In 2005 when the Azad took over as the coalition leader for the second half of the six-year term, Mir was dropped from the council of ministers. In anger, Mir resigned from PDP. He returned briefly a year later and then went out again to float his own one man party – Democratic Party (Nationalist). The party contested on 40 seats in 2008, but only Mir won.

Mir is believed to be ‘close’ to power corridors in Delhi. Despite his involvement with former Army General VK Singh, and accused to be among the architects of summer unrest of 2010 in which 120 youth were killed, he still remained a minister even if his support was not needed for the coalition government headed by Omar. NC had 28 seats and Congress 17 in the 87 seats assembly.

Pertinently, a Delhi based newspaper while quoting an internal investigation of the activities of General V K Singh, former army chief’s controversial Technical Support Division (TSD) in the Military Intelligence (MI) apparatus, revealed that TSD had paid Rs 1.19 crore to Omar’s Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir for toppling his government at the peak of 2010 unrest in which security grid killed 120 youth.

Ghulam Hassan Mir
Ghulam Hassan Mir

“In his three decade long political career Mir has made more headlines for his wrongdoing then for his good deeds,” says a Srinagar based journalist.

Accused of favoritism people believe that only those close to Mir got benefited in Gulmarg.  “See the license to operate in Gulmarg was given strictly to people who are close to Hassan Mir. My son had all the necessary documents, but he is still not in the list,” said Abdul Ahad.

Despite having his own party, Mir is an associate member of the Congress. This may be the reason that Congress has not fielded any candidate against Mir. But it does not stop there. If sources are to be believed, “Mir is set to support BJP to fulfill their mission 44+ in Jammu and Kashmir State.” Perhaps that is why BJP has not fielded any candidate from Gulmarg.

On the other hand, PDP’s Abbas Wani, a local contractor is counting on “Mir’s failures” to woo the voters. While addressing rallies, Wani refers to the tourism potential of far-flung villages. Wani said the previous regimes solely focused on Gulmarg depriving beautiful places like Choontpathri, Nambalnaar, Alpathri, Waniloo, Hajibal and other villages and hamlets, the great potential in rural tourism.

PDP also believes that Mir is in a way helping BJP to achieve ‘mission 44’. Party’s chief spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Kashmir Life that “As BJP has not fielded any candidate in this constituency, he (Mir) is going to be part of BJP’s consolidate vote mission.”

With Mustafa Kamal’s candidature, the battle seems to be triangular. Kamal, one of the two surviving sons of Sheikh Abdullah has represented this assembly segment twice in state assembly: 1987 and 1996. Kamal who would operate family’s Tangmarg estate lost to Mir in 2008 with a margin of 6, 441 votes, which many believe is not “so huge.”

But with Kamal in the fray, people privy to the developments believe that this has not gone well with former bureaucrat and NC’s provincial secretary Showkat Mir. Showkat according to sources was expecting to have NC’s mandate from the area. Though Showkat publicly said that he is happy with party leadership’s decision, but insiders told Kashmir Life that “he is disgruntled.”

With Gulmarg going to polls on December 9, blame game  among candidates has already begun.

Kamal accuses Mir of engineering the fire and arson of Tangmarg Bazar in which six innocent youth of the area lost their lives. “For personnel gains he sold NAC huts and even the centrally heated hospital at Gulmarg to private parties against heavy amount.”

When Mir’s name surfaced in VK Singh case,  ‘disheartened’  Kamal said,  “I was made to lose the election by the same politician who is alleged to have taken huge money from the army for toppling the government in which he continues to be a minister.”

Kamal has on record said that his rival, “Mir was brought up in Army’s lap, IB lent him its hand and Congress made him the minister.”

With a tricky situation popping up, PDP’s Naeem Akhtar claims, “This election we find Gulmarg as easiest win” and attributes Mir’s last win from the seat because of “not so strong candidate of PDP.”

“In 2002 when Mir was with PDP, he got an overwhelming win by 27, 000 votes and in 2008 he won with only 6, 000 votes. Our party didn’t have a strong candidate then,” Akhtar added.

Akhter believes that his party candidate Abbas will prove to be strong contender for both Mir and NC’s Kamal, the duo who has represented the constituency for last 30 years now.

Although Mir has a number of cases pending against him including a vigilance case for misusing power, an FIR, but people think on ‘different’ terms.

“Gone are the days when people used to cast their votes on ideology but now what matters are the ground works like Sadak, Bijili and Pani, which otherwise are administrative issues sought at district levels,” says Ghulam Mohammad, a local resident.

Dr Mustafa Kamal
Dr Mustafa Kamal

He adds, “Do you think Mir will lose because of his involvement in 2010 killings? Sorry but you are wrong as people are very opportunist. They first think of their interests. Mir works in his constituency and that will provide him an edge.”

But refuting such claims Naeem Akhter says, “Everybody knows what Mir has done so I don’t think he is going to win. Instead our candidate will be having majority as the area is under PDP wave.” He adds, “You see some of the lawmakers were very vocal for his public ‘execution’ but then what the reality of the day is, those lawmakers have become friends with Mir and are under the banner of self acclaimed “United Front’.”

Akhtar not only relies on ‘strong candidate of PDP, but further says that “Gulmarg has all along been very close to Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s heart and during the three-years of PDP government, everything possible was done to restore the lost glory of Gulmarg.”

However supporters of Kamaal claim that PDP is no competition for Sheikh Abdullah’s Son. “He has served us earlier and even as doctor, we will vote for him,” said Abdul Rashid Mir of Tangmarg.

Mir’s involvement in various cases many believe is not going to affect his stars. “The involvement of lawmakers in various scams has become a norm but still such candidates have fought elections and proved to be wining candidates,” says a senior journalist.

“All political parties are trying to fetch as many voters as they could. They work on the ‘quick’ approaches of politics like jobs and developments. Political ideology is nowhere and these politicians know how to attract voters. If you see during this election, only BJP is fighting the battle on ideological lines.”

Mir’s involvement in army scam invited condemnation from across political spectrum. Engineer Rasheed advocated in the state assembly to file a case and start CBI inquiry. When contacted, Rasheed said, “I have already said a lot about Mir in assembly and now it is up to the people of Tangmarg what they want to do with him.”

Mir is vouching on his work done, Kamal believes that “he has invested a lot in the area and PDP’s Wani pushes the “development agenda.” Whosoever the people will vote, it is expected to be the “new script”. If Mir continues his winning spree, he will become more ‘powerful’ and if not, he and his one man will disappear from the ‘seen forever.’

“This is going to be very tricky.  This time only one son of Sheikh Abdullah is in fray, Mir has to keep his party stand with his win and Wani is PDP’s hope,” said a local journalist.

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